Mon 27 Apr 2020: plague of cheese

I ran out of one of the essential food groups a few days ago, and despite me being a frequent, prodigious and inventive sinner the Lord did not see fit to smite me with a plague of cheese. So, my usual cheese pusher being 50-odd miles away, I went to Borough Market this morning, specifically to Neals Yard Dairy’s shop there. In recent years the market has been a right pain in the arse because it’s always absolutely heaving with tourists who apparently don’t know how to walk, preferring to just stand and gawp at the alien concept of a market selling food. Today, however, not only were the roads clear so I could drive there quickly and without wanting to scream at anyone, but also parking was free, there was no-one standing in my way in the market, and while the stalls selling the basics had enough customers to keep their staff busy, there was minimal need to queue. Hurrah!

I acquired many tasty things. Praise Cheeses! And also the Holy Sausage, and our Father the Mushroom. Yes, as was the case years ago when I used to shop at the market relatively often, I came back with far more than I intended to buy.

Educationally, today I was a slacker, but I blame having to go shopping and also the time taken playing three dimensional Tetris to fit things in the fridge and freezer. I only watched one lecture, but in doing so I finished Gresham College’s series on epidemics. Its place in my school timetable will be replaced with their series on great mathematicians and their work, which I expect to be rather more interesting and less repetitious.

Sat 25 Apr 2020: getting busier, getting poorer

My previous journal entry was written first thing in the morning and since cutting back on my educational schedule I’ve been much better at keeping to it. In retrospect I should have allowed time for things like rewinding and watching segments of the lectures again, doing a bit of reading around the subject, and so on, right from the start.

The food bank I’ve been volunteering at is getting busier. A lot busier. Today there were 31 jobs – mostly food parcel deliveries, but also a few prescriptions to be collected from pharmacists and a couple of shopping trips to do for people. Yesterday there were 34, and two days ago there were 40. Somewhere between 30 and 40 is the new norm. A week or so ago it was in the low 20s. When I started exactly a month ago, it was under 10 a day. Previously there were more than enough volunteers to do all the work. Now, the individual volunteers are doing more, and the admins are struggling to find enough people to make all the deliveries and to pack all the parcels.

Part of this increase will of course be because of our efforts to leaflet all around the area letting people know that we exist and what we can do for them. Some of it will be because more people are sick or living with someone who is sick, and so not going out. But the bulk of it, I am sure, will be because of people losing their jobs or earning less than normal. You’ve got to be in pretty dire circumstances to resort to using a food bank as no-one likes living on charity, and so this massive increase should be very concerning.

We’re managing so far, but I’m sure other organisations are seeing similar increases in demand, so please, if you can, volunteer locally wherever you are.

If you’re one of those who thinks that the lockdown must be extended to save lives, then please also consider that the lockdown is also causing poverty. We know that poverty is one of the most important underlying causes of disease and death. If you want to extend the lockdown, then you need to “show your working” and your argument that it will do more good than harm. If you can’t make that argument then you should just STFU and admit that you don’t actually know what’s best.

Thu 23 Apr 2020: internal caveman

I have been a bad student. I scheduled four hours a day of online lectures, but I’ve been averaging more like two and a bit, and spending far more time than usual just sleeping. I’m going to reduce the schedule to three hours a day, and try to be a bit more disciplined about it. Not sure why I’m sleeping more, I suppose it must be because I’m not going out, maybe my internal caveman has taken that as a sign that it should hibernate for the winter. The internal caveman, of course, knows not of calculus and so isn’t letting me watch lectures.

Sat 18 Apr 2020: the virtual caff (and smiting)

Back at Ye Dawne Ofe Time, when I first got an internet, Usenet was the in thing. There were plenty of well-trafficked groups full of serious discussion, local interest groups, and the especially in the alt.* hierarchy a great deal of silliness. One of those sillinesses around which a great community developed was the wonderfully friendly alt.2eggs.sausage.beans.tomatoes.2toast.largetea.cheerslove. Long-lasting friendships were formed, real-life meetups happened, and I think it was there that two of members who are now married to each other first met. Unfortunately there was A Troll that proved impossible to get rid of, and when new tools for social interaction online came along with better access control most of the long-term members migrated to a Facebook group. Ten years later after most of us left The Troll is apparently still there, yammering away into the ether.

Last night some of us met up in a video conference to have a good old chinwag. It was just like a pub meetup, with the conversation meandering around unrelated topics (we covered hats, bread, architecture in Sheffield, cricket, absent friends, how many shoes is enough shoes, and a Glaswegian pub amongst other topics), and lots of laughter.

And then this afternoon was my monthly Nazi-smiting session. Gosh, has it really been a month that we’ve been in our Plague Bunkers already? I’m quite pleased how the time hasn’t seemed to drag, my strategies for averting boredom have clearly worked well.

Wed 15 Apr 2020: first lessons

Since deciding what my curriculum should look like on Sunday, and then slacking off on Monday because it was a public holiday, I have been an … adequate student. I’ve not done my calculus revision, but I have watched lectures from the MIT Missing Semester, and also I found an interesting series from Gresham College on epidemics – very topical. As expected I already knew a lot of what I’ve covered so far from the Missing Semester, but I’ve already picked up a couple of excellent tips which I have written about on my techie blog.

With my Copious Free Time I have also stepped up my volunteering with the food bank. Previously I’ve done food parcel deliveries for them during my lunch break while working at home, as it didn’t take long but still got me out in the sunlight. Today I spent an hour and a half packing food into parcels and phoning the clients to see what they need. On top of the short walk there and back I covered about 1½ miles just walking around the church hall, so it was good exercise as well as ticking my “do something nice for people” box for the day.

Sun 12 Apr 2020: back to school

Most of the fun projects that I could think of to work on while I am underemployed would require spending money, and the others are things that I’m already working on sporadically whenever my Muse bops me on the nose with her muse-club. So I’ve also had a look around for Things To Learn. And I’ve found some nice interesting things.

I’m going to take the Missing Semester from MIT. I expect that I know a lot of it already but those sorts of lectures are always good for a few useful unknown gems.

I’ve forgotten almost all my calculus, so I’m going to take 20 weeks worth of lectures in 7 weeks from UC Irvine’s online lectures. I won’t be doing any exercises or anything like that as it’s just revision that appears to cover what I did back in Ye Oldene Times for my A levels.

And I’ve wanted to learn Greek for years, so I’m going to. Although this sounds interesting too.

So if someone asks me in a job interview in the future what I did in the Plague Times I’ve now got my answers.

Thu 9 Apr 2020: furloughed

I’ve been kind of expecting this for a week or so, but today my employer decided to “furlough” (what a ghastly word) about 30% of its employees. And as I’m one of the most recent starters, with my consequent lack of knowledge of internal systems I was expecting that when it did happen, I’d be one of those selected. And I was. On the technical side of the business they’ve kept the Operations team and about half the developers, so enough to keep things ticking over and deal with problems that arise.

The government “job retention scheme” will pay 80% of salary, but only up to a maximum of £2,500 a month (which is as near as damnit the national median salary. Coincidence? I think not!), so I’ll have quite a bit less coming in than normal. On the other hand, my expenditure is also way down, with no travel, no meals at work, no going out in the evening, no theatre etc, and I’ve got plenty of savings, so financially at least I’m still doing OK. I am well aware that I am still one of the lucky ones!

I do wonder though how I’ll cope with having so much less to do. Towards the end of last year when I was between jobs I deliberately took a long period off work, but that was with the intention of filling the time with other stuff. Enforced isolation and no work – well, I’m not sure how I’m going to cope. Working at home may have meant no face-to-face contact with my colleagues over the past weeks, but at least we’ve been chatting online including with video calls. That’s over, as the government pay scheme is predicated on me not working, which is being interpreted as having no (or at least only minimal) access to company systems. I can obviously fill my time with passive media consumption, but I think I’ll need more. I need to think of a project or two that I can do – and without spending any money!

Finally, a geeky aside: you may have noticed a slight re-design here. That’s Mr. Axemonkey’s fault. He pointed out, quite reasonably, that the previous design was not very accessible, as links in the body text were a greenish blue that disappears for colour blind people, and didn’t have the traditional underlining. This new design will still pose colour problems for some people, but not as severely, and at least links are now underlined as our Lord Tim intended. The designers amongst you may be interested in the online tool I used for checking it.

Wed 8 Apr: culture re-scheduled, or grilled rat?

Hurrah and yippee! Some events which got cancelled are being rescheduled, I just booked a ticket for Sadler’s Wells in November. I figure that if we’re still locked in our Plague Bunkers at that point then everything is sooo screwed that I won’t care about art and will instead spend that evening bartering my last pair of socks (just ask any homeless person the value of a good pair of socks) for a delicious grilled rat.

And I’ve almost finished playing postman for the food bank. One more short street to go then I can give it a rest for a while. So many scrapes on the fingers of my right hand from stuffing flimsy flyers through overly sturdy letter boxes.

There also been some exciting (well, I found it exciting) cricket news, which I have written about else-net.

Tue 7 Apr: ghoulish intent

I didn’t write anything yesterday because by the time I had anything worth saying, it was past my bedtime, and if you know me you’ll know that I really need my beauty-sleep.

There was a change from what has been my usual evening Plague Bunker fare of opera and disaster films. I saw this lecture surveying the variety of practices for disposing of the dead mentioned on Twitter. I confess to having started watching it with ghoulish intent, but it was thoroughly wholesome, and Dr Hackner was sufficiently engaging a lecturer right from the start that I was immediately hooked.

I look forward to her posting More Stuff and wish that more of my lecturers when I was on my engineering course so many years ago cared as much about their subject as she evidently does. Someone who cares can make just about any subject interesting. The only one of my lecturers who was excited about his subject specialised in artificial organic polymer structures and 25 years later much of what he talked about is still stuck in my head even though I’ve never used any of what he taught.

But now I’m off to the theatre to see Richard Gadd’s “Baby Reindeer”.

Oh, wait … damnit. Ah well, looks like it’s another night sealed up in the Plague Bunker, with a bottle of whiskey and a good – well, maybe not good … let’s say entertaining instead – book.

Sun 5 Apr 2020: Carrot Ironfoundersson at your service

Croydon Night Watch are based at the Quaker meeting house and were looking for volunteers owing to many of their regulars being elderly and so avoiding human contact. Lots of people turned up, including me. They help the homeless and others in Croydon, handing out ready-to-eat meals and also packaged goods for people to take away with them. Their logo says “caring for homeless people in Croydon since 1976”, but in practice they don’t just deal with the homeless. Anyone desperate enough for free food to show up in a public park alongside alcoholics and junkies got some.

Around twenty of us made sandwiches, filled bags with packaged food (tins and dried pasta, so poor quality but filling; the more local food bank I’ve been helping out at does much better food), and then distributed it. There were also groups of volunteers from one of the local Sikh temples and one of the mosques. It irks me that its the churches and other houses of superstition that have got their shit together and are getting things done, and that secular organisations aren’t. I’ve not heard a peep from my MP or his local party organisation, for example, who were supposedly trying to organise people.

The Night Watch (and just saying that tickles me pink) now have my details and will call on me when they’re short-handed over the next few weeks. I think they were a bit surprised at how many newbies turned up, and so we’ll be split up to work in small groups alongside more experienced volunteers. Having some more experienced people when we’re doing handouts would be wise, as it was a bit chaotic. But everyone got stuff, and there were no fights, so I count that as a victory.